Friday, November 29, 2013

Ancient Origins Of Mallorcan Place Names

The Mozarabs were the indigenous populations of Spain and the Balearics who lived under Islamic rule. In the case of Mallorca, this was from 902. The Mozarabic language was essentially a Vulgar Latin but it came to merge with Arabic, to some extent, and with the early Romance languages which emerged - those of Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan.

Mozarabic forms an important link with the pre-Jaume I conquest history of Mallorca , and while it continued in use for some time after 1229 it was eventually overtaken by Catalan and by the early stages of Catalan dialect development. Its importance, though, lies with toponyms in Mallorca (the history of the island's place names) and with personal names. This study of language, and the interest in it, is such that a town like Muro can devote a whole evening to a presentation of the origins of Christian names and surnames (as will be the case on 10 December). This linguistic past goes, in a sense, to the very heart of the Mallorcan; he or she wants to know where he or she came from and in understanding this, he or she forms a greater appreciation of the present as created by the historical links with Catalan and non-Catalan.

Álvaro Galmés de Fuentes, who was born in Madrid, was one of the foremost Spanish experts on philology (the study of language), dialects and the Spain of Arabic times. He died ten years ago, but his legacy is an astonishing amount of research, among which was a study of place names in the Balearics which were in existence in Mozarabic times.

One of the starting-points for Galmés' research was something called in Catalan the "Llibre de Repartiment", which literally means the book of distribution. It was compiled following Jaume's conquest and it was basically a survey of what there was on Mallorca in terms of settlements and possessions, who owned them and, just as importantly, which ones could be earmarked to be given to Jaume's followers. The "Llibre" was incredibly detailed, because even what are nowadays urbanisations within municipalities are, in some instances, noted. Gotmar in Puerto Pollensa, is an example. Whole towns have survived a process of Catalanisation to retain these same roots. They include Artà, Sóller, Inca, Valldemossa and Sineu.

Gotmar, though, is an example of a place name which had an earlier root. It became Gotmar in Mozarabic, but it, and it is the case with other place names, had a Germanic origin. It was Godomar. As such, therefore, it may well be that its name goes back to the time of the Vandals' invasion of the fifth century and their occupation of Mallorca for some seventy or eighty years.

And in fact, though Mozarabic amended certain place names or established them (e.g. Binissalem), there was a very much earlier influence, one that predated Roman times. It is difficult to say with certainty which languages did what, but there was an "Iberian" tongue and there was most definitely a Celtic tongue. There was also the Basque tongue, and there is evidence to suggest that there was a collision between these different ancient languages which resulted in what there now is. The town of Alaró is an example. "Iluro" is Iberian, while "ur" is also Basque (for water). In the Llibre, Alaró was noted as Olerono, Oloró and Olerón, and the latter was an island in the Vendée in France.

Artà is a name with seemingly distinct Latin roots, and in Arabic it was virtually the same - Artan. But it was also noted in the Llibre as Yartan or Iartan, which has led to the hypothesis that it was corrupted by or in fact formed from an Iberian language. There is an Arta in Vizcaya in the Basque Country. Muro is a name which has given rise to what is almost certainly a totally wrong hypothesis, that it comes from "moro" for Moor, as in Islamic Moors. The Romans appeared to name it, i.e. Murus, but there is more to it than even this. Both Mur(r) and Mor(r) were pre-Roman, and so the name probably derives from an Iberian language in the Pyrenees region or from Basque, Murru.

Mozarabic seems to have been at play with the name Llenaire in Puerto Pollensa. This is an intriguing name as it is an example of the diphthong "ai" being used, and this was Mozarabic. A simple explanation for the name is that it means a place with an abundance of wool ("lana"), but this doesn't stack up as the geographical conditions wouldn't have produced animals with wool. Or not in abundance. The more likely explanation is that a pre-Roman word "losa" became "leña" (firewood) and a Mozarabic suffix for place was applied, "ariu".

Galmés's research, and I can only cover a minute fraction of it here, was remarkable in its scope. While it established the existence, or more or less the existence, of place names by the time of the Catalan conquest and of ones that have been barely altered by Catalan, it showed that there was a very much longer history than that of the Mozarabs or even the Romans. Basque and Iberian influence is clear, and so therefore is the fact that Mallorca, far from being an isolated place in the Mediterranean, was in close contact with the mainland way back into antiquity.

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